| Bradley Manning cleared of ‘aiding the enemy’ but guilty of most other charges!

Bradley Manning cleared of ‘aiding the enemy’ but guilty of most other charges ~  at Fort Meade, theguardian.com.

• Pfc. Manning convicted of multiple Espionage Act violations
Acquitted of most serious ‘aiding the enemy’ charge
• Army private faces maximum jail sentence of 130 years

Bradley Manning at Fort Meade

Bradley Manning has already spent 1,157 days in detention since his arrest in May 2010. Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Bradley Manning, the source of the massive WikiLeaks trove of secret disclosures, faces a possible maximum sentence of more than 130 years in military jail after he was convicted of most charges on which he stood trial.

Colonel Denise Lind, the military judge presiding over the court martial of the US soldier, delivered her verdict in curt and pointed language. “Guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty,” she repeated over and over, as the reality of a prolonged prison sentence for Manning – on top of the three years he has already spent in detention – dawned.

The one ray of light in an otherwise bleak outcome for Manning was that he was found not guilty of the single most serious charge against him – that he knowingly “aided the enemy”, in practice al-Qaida, by disclosing information to the WikiLeaks website that in turn made it accessible to all users including enemy groups.

Lind’s decision to avoid setting a precedent by applying the swingeing “aiding the enemy” charge to an official leaker will invoke a sigh of relief from news organisations and civil liberties groups who had feared a guilty verdict would send a chill across public interest journalism.

The judge also found Manning not guilty of having leaked an encrypted copy of a video of a US air strike in the Farah province of Aghanistan in which many civilians died. Manning’s defence team had argued vociferously that he was not the source of this video, though the soldier did admit to later disclosure of an unencrypted version of the video and related documents.

Lind also accepted Manning’s version of several of the key dates in the WikiLeaks disclosures, and took some of the edge from other less serious charges. But the overriding toughness of the verdict remains: the soldier was found guilty in their entirety of 17 out of the 22 counts against him, and of an amended version of four others.

Manning was also found guilty of “wrongfully and wantonly” causing to be published on the internet intelligence belonging to the US, “having knowledge that intelligence published on the internet is accesible to the enemy”. That guilty ruling could still have widest ramifications for news organisations working on investigations relating to US national security.

The verdict was condemned by human rights campaigners. Amnesty International’s senior director of international law and policy, Widney Brown, said: “The government’s priorities are upside down. The US government has refused to investigate credible allegations of torture and other crimes under international law despite overwhelming evidence.

“Yet they decided to prosecute Manning who it seems was trying to do the right thing – reveal credible evidence of unlawful behaviour by the government. You investigate and prosecute those who destroy the credibility of the government by engaging in acts such as torture which are prohibited under the US Constitution and in international law.”

Ben Wizner, of the American Civil LIberties Union, said: “While we’re relieved that Mr Manning was acquitted of the most dangerous charge, the ACLU has long held the view that leaks to the press in the public interest should not be prosecuted under the Espionage Act.

“Since he already pleaded guilty to charges of leaking information – which carry significant punishment – it seems clear that the government was seeking to intimidate anyone who might consider revealing valuable information in the future.”

In a statement to the Guardian, Manning’s family expressed “deep thanks” to his civilian lawyer, David Coombs, who has worked on the case for three years. They added: “While we are obviously disappointed in today’s verdicts, we are happy that Judge Lind agreed with us that Brad never intended to help America’s enemies in any way. Brad loves his country and was proud to wear its uniform.”

Once the counts are added up, the prospects for the Manning are bleak. Barring reduction of sentence for mitigation, which becomes the subject of another mini-trial dedicated to sentencing that starts tomorrow, Manning will face a substantial chunk of his adult life in military custody.

He has already spent 1,157 days in detention since his arrest in May 2010 – most recently in Fort Leavenworth in Kansas – which will be deducted from his eventual sentence.

A further 112 days will be taken off the sentence as part of a pre-trial ruling in which Lind compensated him for the excessively harsh treatment he endured at the Quantico marine base in Virginia between July 2010 and April 2011. He was kept on suicide watch for long stretches despite expert opinion from military psychiatrists who deemed him to be at low risk of self-harm, and at one point was forced to strip naked at night in conditions that the UN denounced as a form of torture.

Lind has indicated that she will go straight into the sentencing phase of the trial, in which both defence and prosecution lawyers will call new witnesses. This is being seen as the critical stage of the trial for Manning’s defence: the soldier admitted months ago to being the source of the WikiLeaks disclosures, and much of the defence strategy has been focused on attempting to reduce his sentence through mitigation.

With that in mind, the soldier’s main counsel, David Coombs, is likely to present evidence during the sentencing phase that Manning was in a fragile emotional state at the time he began leaking and was struggling with issues over his sexuality. In pre-trial hearings, the defence has argued that despite his at times erratic behaviour, the accused was offered very little support or counselling from his superiors at Forward Operating Base Hammer outside Baghdad.

The outcome will now be pored over by government agencies, lawyers, journalists and civil liberties groups for its implications for whistleblowing, investigative reporting and the guarding of state secrets in the digital age. By passing to WikiLeaks more than 700,000 documents, Manning became the first mass digital leaker in history, opening a whole new chapter in the age-old tug-of-war between government secrecy and the public’s right to information in a democracy.

Among those who will also be closely analysing the verdict are Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who has disclosed the existence of secret government dragnets of the phone records of millions of Americans, who has indicated that the treatment of Manning was one reason for his decision to seek asylum in another country rather than face similar aggressive prosecution in America. The British government will also be dissecting the courtroom results after the Guardian disclosed that Manning is a joint British American citizen.

Another party that will be intimately engaged with the verdict is WikiLeaks, and its founder, Julian Assange. They have been the subject of a secret grand jury investigation in Virginia that has been looking into whether to prosecute them for their role in the Manning disclosures.

WikiLeaks and Assange were mentioned repeatedly during the trial by the US government which tried to prove that the anti-secrecy organisation had directly steered Manning in his leaking activities, an allegation strongly denied by the accused. Prosecutors drew heavily on still classified web conversations between Manning and an individual going by the name of “Press Association”, whom the government alleges was Assange.


Whistleblowing B


| “No reason exists” to justify “inherently unfair” UK Secret Courts, say expert lawyers!

“No reason exists” to justify “inherently unfair” Secret Courts, say expert lawyers ~ Reprieve.

The Special Advocates, a group of expert lawyers who work in cases involving national security, have attacked the Government’s plans for secret courts, describing them as “inherently unfair and contrary to the common law tradition.”

They have also criticised the lack of evidence produced by the Government in support of the plans to roll out secret courts – or ‘Closed Material Procedures’ (CMPs) – across the civil justice system, saying that “no…reasons have been advanced” to justify the move, and adding that “in our view, none exists.”

The new criticisms, contained in a note submitted to Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights in February, come ahead of this week’s Commons debates on the plans, which are contained in the Justice and Security Bill.

The use of CMPs would mean that, in cases brought against the Government, ministers would be able to exclude the press, the public and even their opponents from the court room, and present a one-sided case to the judge.  They have been criticised as a significant departure from long-established principles of open and natural justice, including the right to hear and challenge the evidence used against you in court which is at the heart of Britain’s adversarial system.

The Special Advocates warn that, under CMPs, “it will be possible to have proceedings in which the court’s decision is based entirely on evidence about which one of the parties has been told nothing at all.”

Civil liberties groups, including Reprieve, have expressed concerns that it would be possible to use CMPs to cover up Government embarrassment or wrongdoing in cases involving abuses such as torture.

In their note, the Special Advocates say:

  • “[We] reaffirm our view that no compelling justification for the proposals in Part 2 of the Bill has been made out, notwithstanding the Government’s assertions to the contrary”
  • “We consider CMPs to be inherently unfair and contrary to the common law tradition, because they allow the court to makes its decision based on evidence which one party is unable to see or comment on or challenge.”
  • “There is to date no example of a case in which a fair trial has been shown to be impossible because of the application of existing rules to sensitive national security evidence.”
  • “It has not been shown in practice that the present system has led to any unfairness, as no case has been identified which could not be tried fairly under existing procedures”
  • “We therefore remain of the view we previously expressed: ‘that CMPs are inherently unfair and contrary to the common law tradition; that the Government would have to show the most compelling reasons to justify their introduction; that no such reasons have been advanced; and that, in our view, none exists.’”

Commenting, Reprieve’s Executive Director, Clare Algar said: “The Special Advocates are the experts in this field, and it is shameful that the Government has not respected their views.  They are taking a principled stand against plans for secret courts which would undermine centuries-old British freedoms and put the Government above the law.  Even if ministers won’t listen to them, our MPs must, and vote against these plans in the Commons this week.”


Notes to editors:

  1. For further information, please contact Donald Campbell in Reprieve’s press office: 07791 755 415 / donald.campbell@reprieve.org.uk
  2. The Special Advocates note can be viewed in full here.
  3. The Justice and Security Bill is expected to be debated at Report Stage in the House of Commons on Monday 4 and Thursday 7 March.  Further information on the Bill can be found here.